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Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

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Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#1 Post by dr_st » Mon Sep 17, 2018 3:21 pm

A few months ago a friend gave me an old Thinkpad that was used at some point by someone in his family, and was no longer needed. Turned out to be an A21m - a specimen I've never seen before.

These are the original specs:
ThinkPad A21m 2628-GXU: PIII 800 MHz (256KB) 64MB RAM 20.0 GB 14.1 TFT 1024x768 8x-2x DVD, 3Com Combo, Win98

RAM was upgraded to 128MB by the owner, everything else was stock. It had Windows XP installed on it, which I did not want, since I have plenty of WinXP systems (and this one is a bit underpowered for XP to be useful anyways), so I decided to dual-boot Windows 98 and Windows 2000, since I have no laptops with these systems; I am not really into Linux for home systems.

The pictures below can be clicked for larger versions.

Image Image
Top view: shows a few scratches on the cover, otherwise the machine is in pristine shape.
Bottom view: front-mounted battery, rear docking connector (compatible with both early and late versions of IBM port replicator / mini-dock / dock), access panels

Image Image
Left view: Floppy drive (fixed, unlike A3x systems), audio jacks, hard drive
Rear view: Parallel Port, Modem, LAN, Serial Port, VGA, USB 1.1 (vertical), PS/2 mouse port, power jack

Image Image
Right view: S-Video, DVD drive (in Ultrabay 2000), 2 CardBus slots (one with USB 2.0 adapter, one with WiFi 802.11g adapter)
Laptop stack: X32, A21m, A31p

The A31p is somewhat thicker that the A21m, but not much wider/deeper, despite being 15" and not 14.1". The A31p has two individual flaps for the CardBus slots, the A21m has only one flap shared between the two; if only the top slot is populated, like in the picture, the bottom is completely exposed and unprotected from dust.

The battery on this system was completely dead, and I did not manage to procure an original one, but found an inexpensive knock-off with extended capacity. Originally, A21m/A22m systems came with 6-cell 3.6Ah batteries, A21p/A22p with 9-cell 5.4Ah batteries; the knock-off is 9-cell 6.6Ah, which is plenty for a mobile P-III chip. The battery is a tad thicker than the original, so it does not sit 100% flush with the chassis, but that's barely noticeable, and the extra capacity is worth it. The seller claimed that these are new, unused batteries, and Battery Maximizer reads my battery as Sanyo, manufactured in 2016, with 1 cycle, 69/71 Wh actual/design capacity, and claims that it should last almost 5 hours on a full charge. Time will tell how legit it is.

With both CardBus slots populated, the system is much more modern with USB 2.0 and WiFi. Win98 SE required the USB patch to support USB 2.0 and generic mass storage drivers; both Win98 and Win2K require the manufacturer's utility to configure WiFi. I managed to get all relevant IBM drivers / utilities installed and running on both systems, and the only thing I can see as not working is hibernation on Win98 SE (pressing Fn+F12 sends machine to standby instead); I think I may need to install some supplement but haven't got around to that / don't care enough.

Some neat observations on the A21m / A2x series in general:
  • Standby is supported natively by the BIOS including pre-boot environment: BIOS setup, OS boot menu, DOS. I had no idea that some Thinkpads could do it; evidently, X32 can, but T60 cannot.
  • The power and standby status LEDs are embedded into the right hinge in a way that makes them visible both when the lid is open and when it is closed (most later Thinkpads have separate LEDs on the back of the lid)
  • Unlike the A3x series which used the 15" chassis also for the 14.1" LCD (the LCD bezel was just bigger), on the A2x had two separate chassis for 14.1" and 15"; the 14.1" chassis is the original design, the 15" looks like someone just added extra plastic on the left so that the base matches the larger LCD. See first photo in oeuvre's thread about the A21p here.

Finally, a picture with the system running, showing the Win2K/Win98 boot menu:
Image

Why Win98? I am thinking at some point to make this laptop serve as a DOS game system, and I've heard rumors that the Crystal SoundFusion codec in these systems can actually provide some Sound Blaster emulation in pure DOS. One day I will get around to testing it. :D

Edit: Tested successfully! DOS games work with sound. 8)

Scroll down for:
Instructions for setting up audio under DOS
Link to audio samples

Additional links:
Blog post + Playable audio samples (SoundCloud embeds)
Thread on VOGONS
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Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#2 Post by Thinkpad4by3 » Mon Sep 17, 2018 5:29 pm

Not sure how that will work as a machine with SB emulation, I'd normally shoot for either a desktop with a SB or a laptop that is much older, maybe around 96-97. Tell us how SB emulation works out.

Nice machine overall. Reminds me of a big version of the 570(E) with the Ultrabase on it. I dig the ridges they used to put on the lid and the "below the clickers" blue scroll button on the trackpoint.
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Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#3 Post by ajkula66 » Mon Sep 17, 2018 5:58 pm

That thing is in stunning condition, congratulations!

My first personal ThinkPad was an A20m that looked exactly the same as your A21m, only it was in worse shape even then... :)

Apart from the unfortunate BOD failures, these were solid, well-built if not all-that-handsome workhorses.

Have fun with yours. The pictures of it have sent me down memory lane and then some...
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Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#4 Post by theterminator93 » Mon Sep 17, 2018 6:19 pm

I'll always have a soft spot for the A2* systems. First computer I bought and paid for on my own was an off-lease A22m back in 2004 while I was still in high school. The LCD backlight went bad on it after about a year; I have strangely fond memories of hooking it up to a TV using the S-video port and trying to use the angle of the panel and ambient lighting to see just enough to enable the output. :) I bought a 14.1" lid to replace it with (IBM wanted some $700 for a replacement panel) but it came as a 15" instead... strangely enough, it was a direct fit (despite looking a little odd).

That system is still in my possession but it suffers from the dreaded 20 series power circuit glitch. Sometimes it powers up, but most of the time it doesn't.

Looks like the specimen you got is in fine shape. It should serve you well!
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Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#5 Post by MikalE » Mon Sep 17, 2018 7:45 pm

Very nice find!
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Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#6 Post by RealBlackStuff » Tue Sep 18, 2018 5:24 am

Great looker!
My first IBM laptop also was an A21m, back in 2001 if I remember correctly.
~2 Years later I sold it and got a T23 instead.
Still have that T23 (plus a few dozen of other models).
It is running XP/SP3, never updated, and is only ever used for SVP/CT removal.
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Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#7 Post by dr_st » Fri Sep 21, 2018 9:41 am

Thinkpad4by3 wrote:
Mon Sep 17, 2018 5:29 pm
Not sure how that will work as a machine with SB emulation, I'd normally shoot for either a desktop with a SB or a laptop that is much older, maybe around 96-97. Tell us how SB emulation works out.
So, it does work. I used the instructions from here:
https://hydrogenaud.io/index.php/topic,104459.0.html

The trick is that you need to install the Win9x driver 4.12.2884 from the drivers page, as that one contains the DOS emulation TSR - CWCDOS.EXE - whereas the newer package 5.12.01.3037 does not.

The installer actually automatically puts a call to CWCDOS into AUTOEXEC.BAT. It uses the /P switch, which according to the forum post I linked to means "DDMA". I tried removing the /P, which supposedly uses PC-PCI, and found no differences in performance.

What you get is SBPro digital audio emulation + FM synthesis emulation. The SBPro portion sounds OK, but the FM is... rather bad. In some games it's almost OK, but in other it sounds completely all over the place - missing notes, terrible instrument relative volume balance, distortions of various kinds. In some games (Build engine) it's very quiet. Still, it's there, and gives you both sound effects and music in most DOS games.

Under Windows, the Crystal SoundFusion provides additionally MPU-401 emulation, so you can select 'General MIDI' in DOS games. This does not work in pure DOS (unless there is another driver I haven't discovered).

At some later point I may investigate more the compatibility with specific DOS games, but not right now.
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Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#8 Post by Thinkpad4by3 » Fri Sep 21, 2018 9:48 am

dr_st wrote:
Fri Sep 21, 2018 9:41 am
What you get is SBPro digital audio emulation + FM synthesis emulation. The SBPro portion sounds OK, but the FM is... rather bad. In some games it's almost OK, but in other it sounds completely all over the place - missing notes, terrible instrument relative volume balance, distortions of various kinds. In some games (Build engine) it's very quiet. Still, it's there, and gives you both sound effects and music in most DOS games.
Do you mind sharing any samples(preferably direct audio capture, but speaker to mic would suffice)? Also, how are the internal speakers? I know my 755CDV ones are loud and powerful. Good quality too. But we all know that the 755CDV and an A21m have about as much in common as a an 386 and a water bottle.
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Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#9 Post by dr_st » Fri Sep 21, 2018 10:13 am

I'll see what I can do. What would be of most interest to you? (Can't capture every piece of audio from my rather vast DOS game collection) :P

The speakers are rather loud, but some distortion is present at high volumes. I'll have to run some tests to figure out how much of it is inherent to the speakers, and how much is due to the limitations of the SB emulation.
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X61 7673-V2V, T60 2007-QPG, T42 2373-F7G, X32 (IPS Screen), A31p w/ Ultrabay Numpad, A21m 2628-GXU

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Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#10 Post by Thinkpad4by3 » Fri Sep 21, 2018 12:14 pm

Just some examples of it performing well and some of it performing poorly. If you can manage to play the secret of monkey island intro, I'd like to hear that. Past Secret of Monkey island, pick whatever you want. Just want to know if it is bad enough to rule it out as a machine for playing DOS games because I'm not all that picky about audio quality.

Thanks for taking the time out to record some audio. :thumbs-UP:
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Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#11 Post by pianowizard » Fri Sep 21, 2018 2:26 pm

Your A21m looks much nicer than the A20m that I once had, VERY briefly (because it was so fugly). It was the 2628-12U with 500MHz Celeron, 64MB PC100 RAM, 6GB hard drive, 12.1" SVGA display, and floppy drive. I still have a photo of it:
Image
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Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#12 Post by dr_st » Sat Sep 22, 2018 1:31 am

Yeah, as you can see - they just stuck a 12.1" LCD in a 14.1" chassis, which makes it look ridiculous.
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Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#13 Post by dr_st » Fri Sep 28, 2018 2:50 pm

Thinkpad4by3 wrote:
Fri Sep 21, 2018 12:14 pm
Just some examples of it performing well and some of it performing poorly. If you can manage to play the secret of monkey island intro, I'd like to hear that. Past Secret of Monkey island, pick whatever you want. Just want to know if it is bad enough to rule it out as a machine for playing DOS games because I'm not all that picky about audio quality.
Well, I spent a few hours and in the end got 28 files from 17 different games: Blood, Descent, Duke Nukem II, Duke Nukem 3D, DOOM II, Elite Plus, Final DOOM, Heretic, Hexen, Jill of the Jungle 3, Lemmings, Mortal Kombat II, The Secret of Monkey Island, Skyroads, Supaplex, The Lost Vikings and Warcraft.

It's a 22MB ZIP file:
https://docs.google.com/uc?export=downl ... N9jI4C8uwO

If you want just the Monkey Island intro:
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1ylOpC ... 0ze-2aJPkP

In the process I made an important discovery - many games that sounded completely broken (e.g., missing notes, screwed tempo, and what not) when "Sound Blaster" was selected for music, sound just fine (within the limits of the FM emulation) when Adlib is selected for music. Choosing Adlib instead of Sound Blaster fixes music in Blood, Duke Nukem 3D, Descent, The Lost Vikings and Warcraft. Some other games (DOOM, Descent) probably just talk to the FM like on an Adlib when you select 'Sound Blaster', so they always sounded fine.

From the games I tested, the only one that sounds like total crap is Lemmings (I included 3 tunes from it for those who want their ears to bleed), and the Skyroads intro for whatever reason is really off. The rest are passable (a bit rough, and relative instrument balance is off here and there, but it still sounds like music, not like an accidental collection of notes).

So - better results than I thought. 8)
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Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#14 Post by Thinkpad4by3 » Fri Sep 28, 2018 3:29 pm

dr_st wrote:
Fri Sep 28, 2018 2:50 pm
[lots of text here]
Now that's what I'm talking about. Thanks alot dr_st!! Really appreciate it!! :D :D :thumbs-UP: :thumbs-UP:

Just listened to the Monkey Island Theme, wierd background hiss I heard but besides that, pretty nice... Doesn't compete with the MT-32, but its a SB not an MT-32 so I'm not complaining there.

EDIT: I realized that humm is just the beginning of the song.

I'm going to listen to the rest of the files on my desktop later....on some real Altec Lansing ACS340 speakers(hey, if you are going to listen to 90's games, gotta listen on 90's speakers.)

*-My main speakers actually are ACS340s. Haven't found anything better yet, and they were free 8) .
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Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#15 Post by dr_st » Sat Sep 29, 2018 2:13 am

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X61 7673-V2V, T60 2007-QPG, T42 2373-F7G, X32 (IPS Screen), A31p w/ Ultrabay Numpad, A21m 2628-GXU

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Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#16 Post by RealBlackStuff » Sat Sep 29, 2018 8:12 am

I'm still using the same speakers as seen here:
Henry Kloss Cambridge Soundworks
Image
They are as good as when I bought them new in 1996!
The big one sits under my desk, the small ones are L and R of my monitor.

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Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#17 Post by Thinkpad4by3 » Sat Sep 29, 2018 11:09 am

My desk was design for 1 23" CRT(corner wall desk) so It has a huge area in the back. I just have the two satellites behind the edge of the monitor and the big box in the big space behind the center of the monitors.

Went to the computer store to look for some new speakers a year ago and haven't found anything comparable.
Thinkpad4by3's Law of the Universe.

The efficiency of two screens equally sized with equal numbers if pixels are equal. The time spent by a 4:3 user complaining about 16:9 is proportional to the inefficiency working with a 16:9 display, therefore the amount of useful work extracted is equal.

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Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#18 Post by tdot » Sun Sep 30, 2018 4:43 pm

dr_st wrote:
Mon Sep 17, 2018 3:21 pm
Why Win98? I am thinking at some point to make this laptop serve as a DOS game system, and I've heard rumors that the Crystal SoundFusion codec in these systems can actually provide some Sound Blaster emulation in pure DOS. One day I will get around to testing it. :D
Ahhh, the A21m! My first and favorite vintage ThinkPad so far! It's the one that started me collecting ThinkPads!

Technically, I have an A22m, with an A21m motherboard (I bought one in amazing condition with a dead motherboard, and couldn't repair it). I'll never sell it anyway.

It all started because I wanted a system with a few different things:

Requirement #1: A floppy drive with WinXP support. I have a recording studio with a bunch of vintage equipment, with hundreds of floppies of sound. Naturally, I replaced all the floppy drives with SD card readers. Since USB floppy drives can't read alternate file systems (none of them are DOS formatted), you need a system with a REAL floppy drive. Most of the floppy drive imaging tools easily available these days will only run on XP and up ...

Requirement #2: Ethernet in the machine. I just really didn't want to play around with PCMCIA cards to get working network to transfer the disk images ... to be fair, I am young enough to have never used a PCMCIA card, which is why I didn't want to start now (until I got a 701C).

Requirement #3: Real SoundBlaster support. I figured if I had to meet these other two requirements, I might as well try to find a system I could also use for vintage gaming. At the time, there were a bunch of classic games I played as a kid I *really* wanted to play again (GTA1). I kind of wanted to just install Windows 98 again just for fun. DOSBOX kinda sucks, and doesn't feel right.

After a massive search, I found there are only maybe 3-4 laptops that actually fit those requirements. It's actually VERY hard to find a laptop, with both built in floppy and built in ethernet ... there are a few with swappable floppy/cd drive(s), but the A22m was most appealing to me as it had the full 3 disks at once. I also tried a Dell of around the same vintage, which was supposedly 'SoundBlaster compatible', but most games (DOOM!!!) would fail.

Actually, before I finish, after I realized how great this system was for vintage gaming, I went and found a A21p (with 1600x1200 screen) to play with as well, which I ended up selling. Three issues.
1) There's just something wrong about Win 98 at 1600x1200, even though the screen 'looked great'
2) Some DOS games would flicker some game objects (not sure if it was the main board or the resolution ...)
3) IMO, all the 320x200 as well as 640x480 classics just looked better on the 1024x768 screen. I don't know if it's just that scaling wasn't so great yet or not.
4) For some reason (again, I'm not sure whats going on here, if there was some kind of defect in the GPU), some games like Battlezone 1 wouldn't display properly on the A21p (missing textures), while some games would work fine on the A21p (like Metal Gear Solid PC), but not on the A22m (I assume lack of VRAM). Though, only one game wouldn't run on the A22m - almost half wouldn't work right on the A21p.

That being said, the A2x seems to be the first ThinkPad with decent scaling. I tried a 770Z just for fun (which I ended up selling), but I couldn't take the linear scaling. It made all games look terrible.

And finally, YES! As far as I can tell, the A2* was the last ThinkPad with SoundBlaster support, and it works perfectly! It does require DOS drivers (as I believe the chip is PCI and has to emulate), but every single DOS title I've tried works perfect. X-Com, Fallout 1, GTA, Crusader, DOOM, Quake 1, C&C, Dark Forces, sound works flawlessly. Extremely older ones such as X-Com/Wing Commander have issues with the 'high speed' of the A22, but there is the Gold Edition/etc for Win 9x. Sound in DOS still works though.

*** as a note, there are actually TWO driver packages for Win 9x. One of them is native Win9x drivers, and one of them is not. You need to make sure you get the Win9x package with the DOS drivers, or SB compatibility won't work.

It actually plays a lot of early 3D Win 9x titles as well - even Battlezone which is notoriously hard to run. Resident Evil 1/2, no problem.

If you have 512MB ram in yours, you can download a modern DOS memory manager replacement to limit the system to 256 megs in DOS/Win9x, so that Win2k/XP can use the full 512 (vs pulling out a stick). Some games (Crusader) will crash on >256meg ram apparently.

For mid-late 90s games, I don't think a better laptop exists!

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Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#19 Post by dr_st » Sat Oct 06, 2018 4:53 am

Forgot to add some weight measurements.

Code: Select all

Original 6-cell battery						315 g
Aftermarket 9-cell battery					470 g
A21m with original 6-cell battery				3.11 kg
A21m with aftermarket 9-cell battery, USB and WiFi PC Cards	3.33 kg
Not nearly portable by today's standards! :lol:
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X61 7673-V2V, T60 2007-QPG, T42 2373-F7G, X32 (IPS Screen), A31p w/ Ultrabay Numpad, A21m 2628-GXU

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Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#20 Post by Yoshi392 » Fri Jan 04, 2019 8:48 am

Nice PC ! I have one too (and I'm writing on this forum from it). I like how portable it is, even in 2019 (with new batteries) ! My laptop is running Windows 98 SE on 512 MB of RAM with a 60 GB HDD.

Older ThinkPads are just amazing, they are still very efficient today (except for some websites). And I like the speakers and the sound quality !

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Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#21 Post by TPFanatic » Fri Jan 04, 2019 3:58 pm

dr_st wrote:
Sat Oct 06, 2018 4:53 am
Forgot to add some weight measurements.

Code: Select all

Original 6-cell battery						315 g
Aftermarket 9-cell battery					470 g
A21m with original 6-cell battery				3.11 kg
A21m with aftermarket 9-cell battery, USB and WiFi PC Cards	3.33 kg
Not nearly portable by today's standards! :lol:
I believe Z60m can get to 8 pounds.
lenovo X230 i5 3320m IPS 8GB
lenovo T430 i5 3320m FHD 8GB
lenovo T430s i5 3230m QHD 8GB
lenovo T500 P9700 WUXGA 8GB


Enable 2 finger scroll on any Synaptics touchpads with registry: http://forum.thinkpads.com/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=122612

Thinkpad4by3
Senior ThinkPadder
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Posts: 2470
Joined: Sun Aug 09, 2015 9:25 am
Location: N. Bellmore, ny

Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#22 Post by Thinkpad4by3 » Fri Jan 04, 2019 6:39 pm

W700 goes 10+ lbs!
Thinkpad4by3's Law of the Universe.

The efficiency of two screens equally sized with equal numbers if pixels are equal. The time spent by a 4:3 user complaining about 16:9 is proportional to the inefficiency working with a 16:9 display, therefore the amount of useful work extracted is equal.

wujstefan
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Posts: 958
Joined: Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:38 am
Location: Tarnow, Poland

Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#23 Post by wujstefan » Mon Jan 07, 2019 2:50 am

TPFanatic wrote:
Fri Jan 04, 2019 3:58 pm
I believe Z60m can get to 8 pounds.
Easily.
Thinkpad4by3 wrote:
Fri Jan 04, 2019 6:39 pm
W700 goes 10+ lbs!
Maybe with DS, but standard one stops around 9-9,5lbs.

Anyway, A2x are great machines really. Easily tackled by A3x, however :)
Dailies:
X230 - travel / garage
W700 - workhorse
R600 (R500 mobo inside R60 chassis) - daily
600x w/i7 board - thing to admire
Collectibles:
T43, Z60t, G41, R30, R50e, R61i, A31p, T23
Under construction:
R52p, T22, A22m, R40, T30, Z61m

dr_st
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Location: Israel

Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#24 Post by dr_st » Mon Jan 07, 2019 3:24 am

wujstefan wrote:
Mon Jan 07, 2019 2:50 am
Anyway, A2x are great machines really. Easily tackled by A3x, however :)
Not for DOS games! For pure DOS, A2x win over A3x because of the sound device compatibility which we discussed here. :D
Thinkpad 25 (20K7), X1 Carbon (20HQ), Yoga 14 (20FY), T430s (IPS FHD + Classic Keyboard), X220 4291-4BG
X61 7673-V2V, T60 2007-QPG, T42 2373-F7G, X32 (IPS Screen), A31p w/ Ultrabay Numpad, A21m 2628-GXU

wujstefan
Senior Member
Senior Member
Posts: 958
Joined: Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:38 am
Location: Tarnow, Poland

Re: Surprise addition to collection: A21m *PICS*

#25 Post by wujstefan » Mon Jan 07, 2019 3:30 am

dr_st wrote:
Mon Jan 07, 2019 3:24 am
wujstefan wrote:
Mon Jan 07, 2019 2:50 am
Anyway, A2x are great machines really. Easily tackled by A3x, however :)
Not for DOS games! For pure DOS, A2x win over A3x because of the sound device compatibility which we discussed here. :D
No kidding! Never thought of that. Need to dust my trusty A22!
Dailies:
X230 - travel / garage
W700 - workhorse
R600 (R500 mobo inside R60 chassis) - daily
600x w/i7 board - thing to admire
Collectibles:
T43, Z60t, G41, R30, R50e, R61i, A31p, T23
Under construction:
R52p, T22, A22m, R40, T30, Z61m

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